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Sahil Kapur

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.

Articles by Sahil

Tension was palpable on Tuesday at the House's first hearing on immigration reform, held by the Judiciary Committee, as Republican lawmakers sought to explore middle ground between a swift pathway to citizenship that pro-immigration advocates prefer, and the status quo of massive numbers of undocumented people who are depressing working class wages.

Whether Congress can agree on what to do about the roughly 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country has been a sticking point for immigration reform. It's a vexing political dilemma for Republicans in particular, who are caught between a conservative base that opposes an amnesty program and the need to win back Latino voters.

But the Republicans struggled to articulate what their ideal middle ground would be, if not a pathway to eventual citizenship for undocumented people who meet certain criteria.

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Rep. Luiz Gutiérrez (D-IL) signaled Tuesday that he does not see a middle ground sought by House Republican lawmakers between a pathway to citizenship and mass deportation for the roughly 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally.

"We've come to the conclusion that we need to figure out a way to integrate them," he told reporters. "Now let me just say this: I think it would be wrong for us to create a permanent underclass of people who live in this country who never can reach American citizenship. I want them to have all the responsibilities and obligations that come along with American citizenship... Because I think that's what integrates them into America."

Gutiérrez, an outspoken advocate for immigration reform, said he's continuing conversations with Republicans on how to resolve the issue and signaled that he's pleased with the direction they're moving in.

"We cannot give up on each other and on trying to find a solution to the problem."

Rep. Luiz Gutiérrez (D-IL), an outspoken advocate for immigration reform, applauded House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) on Tuesday afternoon for championing a path to citizenship for undocumented youth.

"Wow, that's wonderful," Gutiérrez told reporters. "That's great. That's good news, positive news. I'll have to go on the floor and thank the majority leader."

"Every day there's a new step in the right direction. There are people leaving their areas, their zones of comfort and moving -- and it's going to take that to get this done."

In response to a question Tuesday about whether immigration reform will get done this year, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) encouraged the efforts of lawmakers in both parties who are working on the issue.

But he did not get into details.

"I want to applaud my colleagues on both sides of the Capitol and in both parties who've worked together to try to solve one of the bigger issues that we're dealing with in our country, and that's the issue of immigration," Boehner said at a press availability. "Both legal immigration and illegal immigration. And I want to applaud Senator Rubio for his efforts, and the bipartisan efforts here in the House. And what I want to do is to encourage both sides of the Capitol and both parties to continue talking to one another so we can resolve this issue in a bipartisan manner."

The Senate overwhelmingly agreed Monday to advance legislation reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, winning over strong bipartisan support to bypass a filibuster and consider the renewal of domestic abuse funding that is currently on life support.

The motion to proceed to debate passed by a vote of 85-8. Final passage of the legislation is expected later this week.

Top Democrats revealed last Friday that they had lined up more than 60 votes for the legislation and would fast-track it to the floor. Last year, the measure passed 68-31 but died in the House after Republican leaders objected to provisions expanding protections to gays, illegal immigrants, college students and Native Americans who have suffered from domestic abuse.

Now, having eliminated a procedural hurdle to House passage, Democrats are twisting the knife.

"It is unthinkable that Republicans in the House would prevent us from taking action -- again refuse to do anything as they did last Congress," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said before the vote Monday. "Allowing partisan delays to put women's lives at risk is simply shameful. ... I hope the Senate's bipartisan action this week will send a strong message to House Republican leaders that further partisan delay is unacceptable."

Ohio Gov. John Kasich announced Monday that he will accept the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, becoming the fifth Republican governor to embrace the provision of the health care reform law that the Supreme Court made optional.

The governor unveiled the decision as part of his budget proposal.

"We are going to extend Medicaid for the working poor and for those who are jobless trying to find work," Kasich said at a press conference in Columbus. "It makes great sense for the state of Ohio because it will allow us to provide greater care with our own dollars."

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Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) raised his criticism of President Obama on Monday for missing the statutory deadline to submit a budget proposal to Congress, and said the House will act on a bill this week requiring him to put forth a plan that eventually eliminates the deficit.

“For the fourth time in five years this White House has proven it does not take trillion-dollar deficits seriously enough to submit a budget on time.  In contrast, Republicans will meet our obligations and pass another budget in the coming weeks that addresses our spending problem, promotes robust job creation, and expands opportunity for all Americans.  The president’s Senate now must pass a budget this year for the first time in nearly four years, or lose its pay.  It’s long past time for the president to do his job.  This week, the House will act on a measure requiring the president to submit a balanced budget, and we hope he uses this opportunity to offer the American people his plan to do that.”

A House Republican aide said the legislation, introduced last week by Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), would require the president's budget proposal to either balance within 10 years or specify the year that federal revenues match spending.

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) attacked President Obama for missing the Feb. 4 deadline to submit a budget proposal to Congress, saying he's "disappointed" and warning that "the most vulnerable will suffer" if Washington doesn't get its finances in order.

Ryan said in a statement Monday morning:

"I’m disappointed the President has missed his deadline. But I’m not surprised. In four of the last five years, he’s failed to submit his budget on time. We still don’t know when we’ll receive the president’s request. And for nearly four years, Senate Democrats haven’t passed a budget at all. We deserve better.

"We spend $1 trillion more than we take in each year. In fact, we spend $3 for every $2 we take in. And we can’t keep that up. If we stay on this path, our finances will collapse. The economy will stall. And the most vulnerable will suffer. We need a budget that reflects our priorities—that expands opportunity. The fact is, we cannot achieve those goals unless we budget responsibly.

"Every time the President and Senate Democrats shirk their duty, they delay choices we need to make. We’ve still got time, but it’s dwindling. Every missed deadline is a missed opportunity. We need to get serious about spending now.

"The House Budget Committee will do its job. We’ll write a budget--and submit it on time. In the past two years, we’ve offered our solutions to the country’s fiscal challenges. Now the President must do the same."

Senate Democrats have said they intend to produce a budget this spring.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says he supports stricter background checks but he isn't revealing whether or not he will support two other gun control proposals backed by the White House: bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Asked Sunday on ABC's "This Week" if he will vote for the assault weapons ban proposal put forth by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Reid demurred.

"Oh, I don't know. I frankly -- and she knows I haven't read her amendment," he said. "I didn't vote for the assault weapons last time because it didn't make sense, but I'll take a look at it. I think that we need to take a look at federal trafficking. I think that everyone acknowledges we should do something with background checks."

On restricting high-capacity magazines, Reid also kept his options open.

"I think that's something we definitely have to take a look at," he said.

"Well, let's see what it is. Let's see what it is. You know, I -- I know that there are restrictions that people have had forever as to how many bullets you can have in a weapon. For example, if you want to hunt waterfowl, you have to plug that so you only shoot three times in a row. Sure, there are things we can do. And I'm happy to take a look at it."

The Obama administration on Friday fleshed out its accommodation for religious groups that object to the Affordable Care Act's requirement that employer insurance plans cover female contraception without cost.

It offered religious nonprofits a compromise between the mandate and the full exemption they demanded, and which churches are entitled to.

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